Sushma Swaraj’s visit to Bangladesh was a good start in forging relationship with neighbor. But this was just a start. Bangladesh can be our gateway to East Asia and a partner in trade. We both have much to give to each other.
Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj’s Bangladesh visit was a right visit at right time. Looking through current diplomatic environment, the visit concluded on a positive note and it can be used to take bilateral relations to next level. Bangladesh government is neither fully pro-India nor anti-India, it is more real politic. In general, Bangladeshis have positive view for India.
The proposed BCIM corridor, in which Bangladesh, China, India and Myanmar will be joined by road connectivity, is another way of bringing all the neighbors closer to each other. This will also increase bilateral trade and open new doors for business opportunities. Unfortunately previous government did not use this excellent opportunity. To a certain extent, Mamta Banerjee was responsible for this, but she was also made scapegoat to hide the government’s inefficiencies. Now Sushma Swaraj by taking the first step, has shown that the new government is very much serious for Dhaka.
This will help in improving the relations and take them to their true potential. We can also make Bangladesh first door of our Look East policy. India has been looking Myanmar for this. But geographically and diplomatically Bangladesh should be given this honor. For this, our government has to patch up many minor issues with it and give it essential support on other multilateral platforms. If BCIM is one such platform. Bengal Initiative for Multi Sectoral Technical and Economic Corporation (BIMSTEC) is another older and wider platform. It also comprises of Bhutan, Nepal, Myanmar and Thailand. If former is basically for providing infrastructure for transportation of goods and raw material, then later provides avenue to connect eastern parts of India with neighboring countries.
There are also many unresolved issues between two countries. Foremost among them is division of river water and bilateral trade. Land boundary between two countries is right now a source of constant tension due to illegal immigration and border disputes, but this can also be converted into a bridge of cooperation. Disputes are mostly political, while benefits are very much real.
To take relations with Bangladesh forward, the centre must listen to the concerned states. But this should not mean that we become hostage of their own state politics, as it has happened in the case of Sri Lanka. Foreign policy cannot be decentralized. New Delhi needs to take into account concerns of North East states and West Bengal, to take the talks forward.
India can learn many things from Bangladesh, especially in poverty elevation. It has done much better in human development than us. It is poster child in reducing infant mortality, women empowerment and upliftment of poorest of poor. Bangladesh is rich in mineral deposits and much bigger exporter of garments than India.
Bangladesh provides huge opportunities to India. The bilateral trade has potential to easily cross $20 billion per year. We only need to keep up the pace and spirit of this cooperation.